Project Loon has successfully connected at least 100,000 individuals in the island of Puerto Rico to the internet, according to a tweet made by X, Alphabet’s moonshot laboratory. The project has collaborated with US carriers AT&T and T-Mobile to quickly rebuild the cellular networks and provide basic communication and internet service to the companies’ customers. After the FCC approved Google’s application to fly the balloons in early October, it launched its balloons in Nevada and navigated them towards Puerto Rico. To ensure that the balloons will stay on the island, the search giant stated that it is using machine learning-based algorithms. Google and its carrier partners have already pushed a separate update that people should install on their devices in order for them to connect to Band 8, the frequency that the search giant’s balloons use.
Puerto Rico is home to around 3.5 million residents, which means that many more people are still unable to use the internet or call their loved ones. Around 44 percent of all base stations in the island is inactive and In four counties, at least 80 percent of the cell sites are still down. A similar number of counties note that less than 20 percent of the base stations are inactive. In other areas, carriers are deploying cells-on-light-trucks, cells-on-wheels, and portable generators to restore their services to their subscribers.
Aside from providing the necessary infrastructure to restore and maintain cellular connectivity in disaster-stricken areas, Project Loon may start renting its facilities to carriers in order to bring internet connectivity to remote areas soon. For example, Google has inked a joint venture deal with the Sri Lankan government and local service operators to extend the local carrier’s coverage to include remote areas in the country. Moreover, the search giant has signed partnerships with carriers to utilize spectrum possessed by the companies, aside from the unlicensed spectrum, in order to provide last mile connectivity to customers. The balloons used by Project Loon contain base station and point-to-point communication equipment, the latter of which is important in relaying data between balloons. Polyethylene, a material that can survive ultraviolet radiation and intense winds, is used to make balloons. Each balloon can provide service at a range of 20 kilometers or around 12 miles, and users can attain maximum data speeds of 10Mbps.
— The Team at X (@Theteamatx) November 9, 2017